She’s the singer and musician who became an indisputable feminist voice throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s with hits like ‘Paranoid’, ‘Androgyny’, ‘Sex Is Not The Enemy’ and many more. Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson has recently reunited with her male posse to release a new album called ‘Strange Little Birds’ in 2016. But it’s not just her signature vocals that will please rock and alternative music fans, it is also what she is voicing away from the stage.
In an interview with ABC News Australia’s ‘7:30 Report’, talk turned to the state of politics around the world, and how it is affecting women, especially in the United States where she lives. With the growing rise of extreme right-wing political leaders and movements in France, the UK, Italy and of course now in the US with Donald Trump, Shirley believes it was the horrific terrorist attacks on 9/11 on the Twin Towers in NYC as the turning point toward current US conservatism.
She also says conservatism has directly contributed to the erosion of women’s rights in America, and can’t understand why any woman would be complicit in this.
“Why any woman would want to divorce themselves from the idea of equality is beyond my understanding,” she said.
Although there have been consistent efforts by conservatives to curb the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and minorities, we have seen this happen in a far more extreme and sweeping manner since the 2010 mid-term elections under President Obama, where a wave of Tea Party legislators won a lot of seats in state houses as well as at the federal level. You can watch VICE’s HBO Special ‘Divided America‘ to get an insider look at this progression.
What is most frightening about the Tea Party influx is the amount of anti-choice laws that swept the country. Since 2011 there have been more abortion restrictions enacted than in the past decade. In 2015 alone, nearly 400 anti-abortion bills (many of which do not actually help to reduce abortion numbers, they simply restrict access to clinics and place unnecessary burdens on doctors and women) were introduced, showing just how hostile conservatism is, despite Supreme Court law which gives women the right to choose.
Shirley Manson says this is also a pattern happening around the world.
“There’s definitely a global movement towards eradicating women’s rights. You’ll see it in Poland, you’ll see it in Argentina, you’re seeing it in the States. I mean, it’s just everywhere,” she said, referencing an extreme anti-abortion law in Poland, which ended up being abandoned after thousands of (mostly) women came out in droves to protest against it.
In her view, part of this happened because a generation of people got complacent, and started taking human rights for granted.
“[They] thought they were there to stay, not really understanding that human rights get eroded constantly and you always have to be really vigilant to make sure that these rights that women have fought so hard for remain in place. Instead we got a whole generation of young women who maybe thought they were living in the Garden of Eden. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong or what’s happened but they divorced themselves from the idea of feminism,” she said.
Regardless of whether it sounds like she is passing on blame to Millennials, the truth is in the landscape of women’s rights today and how vehemently they are under attack in a number of areas. However, we are also seeing an encouraging and inspiring amount of women around the world speaking out and taking a stand like never before. Shirley was asked who she thinks is leading the resistance, and she shared some of her role models.
“I think any woman that breaks conventional rules, stereotyping, is fighting the good fight. Whether that’s Michelle Obama, whether it’s Serena Williams, whether it’s Grimes … any successful athlete, any engineer, any producer, I mean, everybody’s at it,” she said, referencing the current female empowerment movement that is taking place in a number of industries.
Part of the current wave of feminism owes its power to social media, a fast-moving information vehicle that the world has never seen before, and which has the ability to disseminate information and create movements and awareness at lightning speed. But, as Shirley points out, there is also a downside to it – the fact that it has compounded the effects of negative body image often found in advertising and beauty or fashion magazines.
“There’s so much pressure on young women to be beautiful, to put a photograph up on social media and have people go, ‘Wow, you’re so beautiful’. It’s kind of meaningless because there will always be another beautiful woman to follow,” she said.
Being in the public eye for so long has meant that she has also felt the sting of feeling “unworthy” according to the standards thrust upon women from such a young age. It is something she regrets wasting so much time on.
“Ironically, when I was my youngest and most beautiful I felt the most pressure. I was always feeling that I was falling short and, you know, looking back, I was young and beautiful, and I didn’t know I was, I was oblivious to that fact,” she said.
Not wanting to see younger women face the same pressures and insecurities she did, Shirley encourages them to focus on the truly important things in life, physical appearance not being one of them.
“I think women really need to shift their focus onto something that creates a foundation for them as they grow through life. Nobody stays young and beautiful forever; therefore, build a platform on which you can stand through storms,” she said.
This is a message that heavily resonates with us, as we aim to use our platform to share inspiring and empowering messages that allow women and girls to know their value is not dependent on their looks alone. Staying true to her feminist foundation, Shirley wants to be remembered for her artistic talents in the music industry.
“As I’ve gotten older … I have focused on things that I consider much more important. I want to be a great writer, I want to be good at what I do, I want to go on stage and blow people away,” she said.
If this is the kind of perspective that comes with age, then bring it on! Thank you Shirley Manson. Watch the music video for ‘Magnetized’, from ‘Strange Little Birds’, below: